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March 12, 2022 10 min read

The triceps make up the largest portion of muscle mass on your arm, so it makes sense that if you want  beefed up arms, you want to be training the triceps. And for most people’s needs, the triceps pushdown is the go-to option. 

It’s a simple movement needing either a cable machine or a lat pulldown machine—both pieces of equipment being commonly found in gyms everywhere. The simplicity and accessibility of the triceps pushdown makes it a popular and effective choice. However, variety is the spice of life, and there are many different reasons why you might want to consider switching things up every now and then.

Why Alternative Exercises?

Since the tricep pushdown (also known as the pulldown and pressdown) is so effective, then why should we go out looking for alternatives? Don’t fix what’s not broke—right? The logistical reason why someone might be looking for alternatives is if they lack the proper equipment for pushdowns. Although different pieces of equipment can be used, all with similar benefits (such as cable triceps pushdown and rope pushdowns), you might sometimes find yourself in a situation without those options. And if you’re keen to train triceps, you might be out of luck.

That is unless you’ve come prepared with a toolkit of triceps exercises. Another reason is injuries. If you’ve been doing triceps pushdowns with poor form or have been using the reverse grip method incorrectly, you might run into some issues with your elbow joint. Other exercises might be able to avoid pain caused by injuries while still allowing you to engage the tris. 

Lastly, it’s good to add a little variety to your workouts. Doing the same movement for one muscle group day in day out is a recipe for stagnating gains and hitting plateaus. You want to be hitting your muscles from different angles with slightly different requirements for a well-rounded and optimized development in strength and size.

Best Triceps Exercises to Build Muscle and Strength

Down below are 7 of the best tricep pushdown alternatives. Although they’ll all work your arms in fundamentally similar ways, you’re still going to be able to use them to spice up your training to some extent. As always, remember to warm up before your workouts and pay attention to performing lifts with proper form. Both of these factors will improve the results of your training while also helping you avoid injuries.

1. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension

 

The dumbbell triceps extension is another favorite when it comes to triceps workouts. It’s an effective movement that not only hits your triceps but also your shoulders and your core. There’s a variety of ways to perform a triceps extension. For example, you can either do it standing up or perform a lying triceps extension instead. You can also use different pieces of equipment: from dumbbells to kettlebells, EZ bars, and straight bars.

The benefit of doing it standing is that more of your core will have to be engaged in order to maintain stability. Using a dumbbell will also allow you to train each arm individually. This type of unilateral training is great for addressing imbalances in development between your right and left sides. Since one side is always going to be stronger, this tends to lead to unbalanced development—even if you think you’re sure that each arm is putting in equal work. 

We’ll be looking at the standing dumbbell overhead extension, using a dumbbell in each hand. Choose a weight that’s not too heavy, since you’ll be holding them above your head after all. Picking a reasonable weight also allows for a full range of motion while decreasing your risk of a muscle injury occurring.


To perform the dumbbell overhead tricep extension:

  1. Begin with your feet planted shoulder-width apart and a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Hold them up above your head, stretching your arms straight up above.
  2. Initiate the movement by slowly bending your elbows and lowering the dumbbells behind your head. Remember not to flare your elbows out significantly—they should be kept close. Make sure this movement is slow and controlled.
  3. Continue until your forearms go past parallel to the floor. Reverse the movement and slowly bring the weights back up above your head. Your upper arms should be kept as still as possible throughout the whole movement. Continue for around 15 repetitions.

2. Diamond Push-ups

     

    Just like the mineral they’re named after, these push-ups are difficult to perform, at least for beginners. By moving your hands closer together in the conventional push-up, you’re going to be placing a much larger emphasis on the triceps. On the other hand, if you were to move your arms further apart, there’d be a greater emphasis placed on the pecs. Along with the increased tricep activation, diamond push-ups will also work the shoulders, especially the anterior deltoid.

    The need for increased balance also makes this push-up variation a great step towards progressing to one-arm push-ups later down the line. As an added benefit, push-ups rely entirely on your body weight, much like exercises such as pull-ups. This means you’ll be able to hit your triceps anywhere and anytime, provided you have some space and the motivation.

     To perform diamond push-ups:

    1. Begin by getting down on the ground on all fours. Your feet should be kept together behind you, with your toes in contact with the floor. Bring your hands underneath your chest and position your index fingers and thumbs so that they touch in a diamond shape.
    2. In the starting position, ensure that your elbows are locked out and your back is perfectly straight without any sagging. Tighten your core and glutes.
    3. Initiate the movement by slowly bending your elbows and lowering your chest towards the floor. Continue until your chest almost touches the floor and pause for a moment.
    4. Make sure that your elbows aren’t flaring out at any point during the movement—they should be kept tight in towards your torso. Press through your hands and straighten your elbows to come back into the starting position. Aim for 15 to 20 reps.

    3. Skull crushers


       

      Also known by the more boring name of “lying triceps extension,” skull crushers are as effective at training your triceps as they are cool-sounding. This exercise is especially useful at developing the triceps because you’re putting your arms in the optimal positioning for what the triceps are meant to do: the extension of the elbows. This makes skull crushers a top-tier lift for taking your tris to the next level. They’ll also help to improve your lockout strength when it comes to lifts such as the bench press and the overhead press. With their carry-over benefits and tricep activation, they’re an excellent lift to include in your routine.

      Skull crushers will benefit anyone from beginners to more specialized lifters who are either going for hypertrophy or strength gains. It’s a useful tool to have in your toolbox and a great alternative. You can either use a pair of dumbbells or a barbell, with the latter allowing you to use a lot more weight. We’ll be looking at the barbell variation. But as the name suggests, don’t go overboard with the weight when starting out or you’ll make the name a reality.

      To perform skull crushers:

      1. Lie down on your back on a bench. Holding a barbell above you, ensure that your hands are around shoulder-width apart, but feel free to play with the width to find what’s most comfortable for you. Begin with the barbell above you, elbows locked out.
      2. Ensuring that your elbows remain tucked in towards your body, slowly begin bending your elbows and lowering the bar down to your forehead. Although your elbows can flare out slightly, too much flare and your triceps will lose a lot of engagement.
      3. Once the bar reaches your forehead, roll your arms back (lowering the shoulders) so that the barbell comes behind your head. At this point, you should really be feeling the stretch in your triceps.
      4. After reaching the bottom of the movement, pause for a moment before reversing the motion and bringing the bar back up to the starting position. Ensure that your elbows continue to be tucked in.

      4. Close Grip Barbell Bench Press

         

        The bench press is a juggernaut of an exercise. As the golden standard of upper body strength and fitness, it’s one of the most popular lifts out there. And although the bench press is mostly known for its chest engagement, the triceps also play a critical role. This becomes especially apparent when performing the bench press with a grip that’s narrower than conventional. Although your chest and shoulders are still going to remain important movers in this variation, a lot of the attention is going to be shifted towards the tris.

        This is also a great bench press variation for those who are experiencing any shoulder discomfort while performing the conventional bench. The narrower grip width means that there’s less shoulder abduction throughout the movement, meaning that those with shoulder injuries are going to have an easier time.

        To perform the close-grip barbell bench press:

        1. Position yourself on a flat bench underneath a barbell—your eyes should be directly underneath the bar. You should also be easily able to reach up and lift the bar off its supports. Plant your feet into the ground, getting a good grip.
        2. Grasp the barbell at shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower. Don’t use a grip that’s too narrow since it’ll be difficult to keep the weight stable and you’ll risk injury to your wrists.
        3. Engage your core and glutes, squeezing your shoulders blades together. Press up to lift the bar off the supports and lockout your elbows.
        4. Slowly lower the bar down to your sternum while keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. This will ensure that most of the emphasis remains on the triceps.
        5. Once you get to the bottom, pause for a moment before pressing the weight back up into the starting position.

        5. Triceps Kickback

           

           

          The triceps kickback is another excellent triceps exercise to have in your back pocket when you’re looking for some variety. This is a tried and tested method of strengthening and growing your triceps, so it’s seen a lot of popularity. Unlike the compound exercises that we’ve looked at so far (such as the close grip bench press), this is an isolation exercise, purely triceps-centric.

          If you’re looking to gas out your tris at the end of the workout for some added engagement, this is going to be a great choice. The triceps kickback can also be performed with dumbbells, bands, or a pulley machine, making it an accessible movement no matter your equipment situation. We’ll be looking at the dumbbell version.

          To perform the triceps kickback:

          1. Place one of your knees on a bench. Then, lean forward so that your hand is also resting on the bench and supporting you. If your left knee is on the bench, your left hand should be supporting you, and vice versa. Your back should remain straight throughout the exercise.
          2. Grab a dumbbell in the hand that’s hanging down, with the palm facing in towards the bench. Bring your elbow up until your upper arm is parallel to the floor. This is the starting position.
          3. Straighten your arm so that the weight goes backward towards your hip. Continue until your whole arm is parallel to the floor.
          4. Slowly reverse the movement until your elbow is back at 90-degrees. Switch arms once you’ve completed your set.

          6. Resistance Band Triceps Pushdown

          Although you’re looking for cable tricep pushdown alternatives, using different equipment can also offer some necessary variety. For one, using a resistance band instead of a pulley machine allows you to do this exercise almost anywhere. This makes it much more accessible and useful if you don’t have access to any expensive gym equipment. More importantly, however, resistance bands add an element of constant tension throughout the exercise, at least when compared to free weight alternatives.

          Normally, different parts of an exercise have different difficulty levels. This means that your muscles are activated differently at different parts of the lift, leading to a development that favors certain muscle fibers. Since a resistance band offers constant resistance, you’re going to be challenged every step of the way.

           To perform the resistance band triceps pushdown:

          1. First you’ll have to attach the band to something that’s above your head. Door anchors or pull-up bars are both good options.
          2. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and take a step back. Hinge your hips slightly while keeping your back straight. Press your elbows into your sides.
          3. Initiate the movement by flexing your triceps and pushing down, stretching the band. Continue until your elbows are straight.
          4. Hold for a moment before slowly reversing the movement and coming back into the starting position.

          7. Parallel Bar Dips

           

          Dips are one of the most useful upper body exercises you can do—and as an added bonus, all you need is your body weight and a couple of parallel bars. Along with the triceps, dips also hit your shoulders, pecs, and abdominals. They’re especially useful for building the chest since a small variation can either place more emphasis on the chest or on the pecs. This makes them an adaptable exercise you can change on the fly depending on your needs.

          If performing the triceps variation, dips are an incredibly useful tool for your triceps training arsenal. They’re going to gas you out and give you an amazing pump that’ll benefit more than just your tris. We’ll be looking at parallel bar dips, but you can also dip between two parallel benches to hit your tris even harder. Elevate your feet with a stool and ramp up the difficulty even more.

          To perform parallel bar dips:

          1. Walk between the bars and either jump up or bend your elbows to grasp either bar. Your hands should preferably be about shoulder-width apart. Straighten your arms to rise up to the starting position.
          2. Keep your core tense throughout the movement. Although you’ll naturally lean forward slightly, you want to try to minimize this. Doing so will place more emphasis on the triceps—if you were to lean forward, that would be targeting the chest.
          3. Slowly—and we mean slowly—lower yourself down. Doing so will increase your  time under tension and therefore increase the gains. Continue down until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle.
          4. Pause at the bottom before pressing up powerfully back into the starting position.

          Supporting Triceps Strength Development

          For big arms, we need big triceps. And to get big triceps, we can’t just rely on the same, single exercise for optimal gains. That’s why variety is an important factor in your development—and this goes for all your muscle groups, not just the triceps. But along with variety, muscle growth and strength gains will only come if you support your development with a good diet and supplements that can help provide  enough rest after your workout.

          Working out is important, but the harder you work, the more time you need to put into taking care of yourself. With enough rest, a good diet, and an effective and varied workout routine, you’re going to build much more than just a pair of sleeve-bursting arms.